Michigan visits No. 19 SMU in final non-conference test
After Tuesday, the Michigan men’s basketball team will have played seven games in 19 days: Two in Ann Arbor, one in North Carolina, one in Texas and three in the Bahamas.
The Wolverines (6-2) are suffering from a pair of backcourt health issues already, but they’ll soon get the chance for some rest and recuperation with a four-game home stand against so-called “guarantee” opponents like Delaware State and Bryant.
One non-conference obstacle remains, however, before that stretch: Tuesday’s trip to No. 19 Southern Methodist.
The Mustangs have charged out to a 6-0 start despite the NCAA’s September announcement that head coach Larry Brown was suspended nine games for a lack of program control, among other reasons. The sanctions stem from violations related to academic fraud and “unethical conduct” and also preclude SMU from participation in the 2016 postseason.
Nonetheless, five Mustangs are averaging double-figure scoring totals, and as has been the case in each of Michigan’s losses this year, they pose a major threat size-wise on the glass.
Beilein acknowledged Monday that his big men will once again have their hands full in terms of rebounding. In particular, he marveled at SMU’s Jordan Tolbert, who is averaging eight rebounds despite having started just two games.
“Four offensive rebounds a game,” Beilein said. “I’ve never seen that.”
Beilein has, however, seen the Mustangs — they beat Michigan last year at Crisler Center to cap the Wolverines’ four-game December losing streak. The 62-51 loss came on the heels of losses to New Jersey Institute of Technology and Eastern Michigan, and a 27-point blowout at then-No. 3 Arizona.
This time, Michigan enters the game coming off four consecutive wins but will have to overcome the absence of junior guard Derrick Walton Jr. to keep the streak alive.
Walton’s status remains questionable with what Beilein referred to as a lateral ankle sprain, which he sustained last week in the first half of Michigan’s 66-59 win at North Carolina State.
“We tried a little bit (Sunday),” Beilein said. “He wasn’t able to go. … If he does try and play and he can’t do it, he’s got to come out.
“Let’s see what it is,” Beilein said. “It’s a very tender area of your body, and you also want to make sure that you don’t hurt him for down the road. An ankle injury will plague you all year long if you don’t allow it to heal.”
On paper, the SMU matchup looks to be among the Wolverines’ three most important non-conference games, alongside their Battle 4 Atlantis matchup against then-No. 19 Connecticut and their Nov. 20 loss to Xavier, which now clocks in at No. 10 in the AP Top 25.
Another concern for Michigan is Nic Moore, SMU’s 5-foot-9 point guard. Moore scored 17 points in the Mustangs’ win over the Wolverines last season, and worse, Beilein said putting length on him doesn’t seem to help. He poses an extra challenge for Muhammad-Ali Abdur-Rahkman and the rest of Michigan’s backcourt, struggling to cope with Walton’s absence and senior guard Spike Albrecht’s limited status.
While SMU is undefeated, some have questioned the quality of its opposition so far — the Mustangs’ best win is likely an 85-70 victory at Stanford on Nov. 19. And while Michigan’s Aubrey Dawkins has yet ask his father, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, for a scouting report, he knows there’s still time.
“That’s a good idea,” Aubrey Dawkins said. “I should.”